Stop pushing me, I know the divide key

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By John Pawlak

OK, a quick test ... what’s 44 percent of 25? Most adults know how to do this, but might have some trouble doing it in their head. 

Now suppose you ask them to find 25 percent of 44. Ah, that’s a horse of a different math! 

Virtually every adult knows that 25 percent is 1/4th and so 25 percent of 44 is 11. But percentage is simply a multiplicative factor. It means that you divide by 100.

So 44 percent of 25 is the same thing as 25 percent of 44, right? Explain this to most adults and with little thinking, they’ll readily see that this is true.

Ask the same question to a student in middle school, or high school, or even college.  It’s a good bet that they won’t know the answer and the only way they can figure it out is to pull out a calculator and start punching numbers. 

And if you did try explaining that they could simply take 25 percent of 44, it’s likely that they would push those buttons to figure that one out too. A large number of American students can’t determine 25 percent of a number!

Our children are carrying these portable black holes that are literally sucking intelligence out of their skulls. I’m beginning to think that it’s a conspiracy, a plot to dumb down our entire world! 

Those nasty electronic know-it-alls are slowly turning our nation’s youth into know-it-nothings. Instead of developing sharp minds, kids are honing their dull fingertips. 

Ask a high school student what 6 times 12 is ... and out comes that calculator!

Now, it’s totally reasonable to use a calculator to find the answer to a problem like 368 times 862. But 6 times 12? 

You think I’m exaggerating? Think again.

I’ve seen kids pull out their calculator to divide 160 by 2 ... or to multiply 35 times 10. We have an entire generation of kids who are finding themselves depending on calculators for even the simplest of arithmetical operations.

So what’s the problem? Why don’t they know how to multiply? I know for a fact that elementary school students can multiply with no difficulty, and yet by the time they get to high school, many act as if they never learned it.

There’s only one possible answer ... it’s an alien invasion.

Yes, years ago, an alien race intent on taking over our planet gave us calculators and then left. They figured that after two or three generations, the entire planet will regress to Pleistocene Age math, our schools reduced to handing out the highest degrees to those few people with the nimblest fingers.  

We’ll be ripe for an invasion. And when they attack, we won’t even have the ability to count the casualties.

Study after study has shown that dependence on calculators degrades one’s core understanding of basic concepts. One study at Johns Hopkins University found a strong correlation between calculator usage in earlier grades and poorer performance in calculus. Students in most countries scoring highest in international math competitions do not use calculators as part of mathematics instruction before middle school.

Of course, there are many studies that counter these points. Many people think that removing the need for tedious number crunching allows students to devote more time to mastering complex concepts. 

Others argue that technology makes for a better student by enhancing cognitive development.

To all that I say ... bull-dunky!  (that’s a technical math term inferring a discontinuity in logical thought processes.) Technology is an enabling tool, but it’s not a magic pill. Buying a $400 hammer doesn’t make you a better carpenter. 

The people who split the atom, the people who sent men to the moon, the people who built jet engines, invented lasers, broke the DNA code ... even those who built the first computers ... learned math without the aid of a calculator. 

In fact, the greatest mathematicians in history invented mathematics itself without the aid of a calculator! What would Euclid or Newton or Archimedes have accomplished with a TI-89?  Most likely, they would have ended up never getting past 8th grade math.

Here’s my stance: We should outlaw the use of calculators in all elementary and middle schools. When a student goes to high school, she or he should know how to add fractions, how to compute percentages, how to do long division, how to multiply decimals, how to subtract a negative number, and most definitely ... how to divide most any number by 2 without looking like they’re having a root canal.

Those who argue that calculators stimulate the educational environment don’t seem actually to be in the educational environment. 

My guess is that they own stock in Texas Instruments.